Brisket challenge 2011

For the past several weekends, perfectly smoked brisket continues to elude us. Regardless of cut or size, we still undercook or cook the brisket too fast. This current weekend we purchased a whole, untrimmed brisket from Kroger’s at 1.99/lb. Weighing in at under 10lbs, we put the behemoth (our biggest attempt yet out of 5 or 6) into our black kettle. Starting with two banks of coals, we eventually had to foil up the monster at the 3 hour mark.

Here’s our dilemma: we get too impatient and don’t let the brisket smoke long enough. Obviously, internet literature suggests at the minimum 90 minutes per pound if cooking in the 200-250 temperature range. At this rate, a 9-10lb brisket should cook for 13-15 hours. We haven’t been able to sit still long enough to cook a brisket all day. I’m minded to go back to the smaller cuts and keep an eye on the temperatures better.  However, further reading reveals that competition bbq can be cooked up to 350F at a faster rate, then wrapped and put into a cooler to cook at rest. 

I’m fairly certain that our Weber 22″ kettle isn’t at fault here (Alton Brown used terracotta flower pots for heaven’s sake!), though managing steady temperatures is certainly key. I have already bought a meat thermometer to keep an eye on the brisket, but perhaps a temperature gauge on the kettle itself might prove crucial to turning out a perfectly smoked brisket. Other adaptations we have made is resorting to rosemary branches to double as an apple juice mop. Cheap and disposable.

I believe my brisket rub is near perfect. I bottled up one of my concoctions a few weeks ago, and we have been using it consistently on beef. It is simply a mixture of paprika, garlic powder, salt, ground black pepper, onion powder and brown sugar with some dried basil and hot pepper flakes thrown in.The taste is nearly perfect, though I think it could use a touch more sweetness. For this large brisket, I added more salt.

What we lacked aside from doneness on this current test slab was a good bark. Methinks our generous mopping was defeating the bark formation as well. At the 3 hour mark, only very small bits of end were blackened…of course foiling up the beast pretty much ensured no more bark formation. When I cut into the flat end at the 6 hour mark, unrendered fat formed a rind along the bottom cap, but boy it was still tasty. Personal note: DO NOT MOP until 2-3 hours in! A very generous smoke ring was evident in all the cuts we made. We did separate part of the flat from the point end, and at this stage, the meat steamed when cut. We got our tough chewy (but extremely flavorful) dinner bits, then wrapped up the remainder and set it into the oven to rest overnight.

Some good practices we have been following is to rub the brisket prior the day of cooking, then make sure the slab of meat is at room temperature before placing on the grill. We’ve also been using liquid-filled drip pans in the kettle, usually water or apple juice–though I’m highly skeptical that the apple juice steam imparts any flavor to the meat. 

Things we should apply but haven’t done: COOK TO TEMPERATURE, not time. (Anywhere between 180 to 200 internal temp is the general consensus.) Get a temperature gauge for the kettle. Get a remote temperature gauge for the meat. Don’t mop until a bark has successfully formed, sometime between the first hour and third hour. Test for tenderness: insertion and pulling out should be little to no resistance; if there is resistance, then it’s not tender-ready. When to foil? Anytime after the first half or only at the end to rest for 20 minutes. Keep the brisket as far away from the fire as possible–tough to do if you’re limited on rack space. Try mustard as a medium for applying the rub to. And finally, start early morning and expect to end late–especially for any brisked sized over 3lbs.

Despite our setbacks with smoking brisket, my potato salad recipe is nearly perfected. More on that later.